Monday, February 21, 2005

Reply to Dave H. on the Biblical Canon and the Alleged Irresponsibility of Internet "Catholic Apologists"

[unless this "Dave H." is a different person (I hate Internet nicknames), he appears to be one of the regular contributors to the Lutheran blog Here I Stand. But he says he attends an Anglican church]. I am responding to comments he made on the Pontifications blog. For background, see my response to his colleague "CPA" on Catholic apologists and the biblical canon. Dave H.'s words will be in blue. Older citations of mine will be in green.]

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It's all pretty simple. If the internet were not full, and I mean full, of Catholic and Orthodox converts from other communions, who attribute their conversion to the sudden realization that the Church wrote the scriptures in the manner that Clueless Christian seems to think then their would not be a need to respond this most obvious error as CPA did.

If the Internet is so full of these people, then how come CPA could cite only one (recent) convert, and Pontificator (who is not a convert) and one Catholic apologist who said nothing like what he is criticizing? You repeat the same charge. The Internet is "full" of this, but no documentation. It may be, for all I know (I don't do discussion boards or lists anymore), but I don't believe things simply based on bald assertion.

Perhaps he was too harsh in tone - but not content. The truth remains. You can only see falsehood repeated so many times before you address it and to be honest it is really frustrating to see thoughful Protestants constantly berated and while this type of stuff is left floating around the internet without causing any type of internal conflict.

I'm an "equal opportunity" apologist. On my website you will see pages devoted to correcting errors of liberal Catholics and "traditionalist" Catholics. I recently did a piece concerning a liberal Catholic on my blog. I correct error when I see it. I corrected "Clueless" on one inaccurate remark she made (so did Pontificator).

As long as Catholic and Orthodox apologists let what they know to be false slide . . .

Why is it that you folks at Here We Stand have to be so extreme in language? Now the charge is upped from laxity and sleepy patrolling of internal errors, to flat-out hypocrisy and ethically dubious irresponsibility. Do you try to be as uncharitable as possible, or does it just come naturally? It's not just you; I've seen this also in CPA and Josh when it comes to Catholics. Not that it is surprising anymore, but there is this thing called Christian charity that we can all agree on, if nothing else.

then criticizing those who actually address is kind of silly.

I agreed with the criticism of the wrong statement and belief. What I disagreed with was the exaggerations of making out that this is commonplace among "apologists." I also thought that Clueless's words were taken out of context. She made one mistake in terminology. Big wow. Even that was clarified in context.

In other words until Catholics and anyone else police their own when they know that falsehoods are being spread in their name, they should stop criticizing those who point it out and start critizing their own.

I'm totally in favor of that, which is why I do it (more on that below).

Better yet, make sure your own people are properly catechized and educated.

Why do you think I am an apologist in the first place? Apologists are despised by so many (I was the subject of two huge threads on a big discussion board recently: it was almost all ad hominem nonsense), yet we often hear this motif: that Catholics are so ignorant. So, which is it?: Apologists are big bad boogeymen, or useful to help educate an undercatechized laity, and to challenge a liberalized clergy (where that malady is present)?

Just to clarify that was a general statement not addressed to anyone in particular. But to the internet apologetics movement, particularly Catholics e-pologists, who do not police their own on issues that make them look bad. It was merely constructive criticism.

See, now this is what I object to. You guys insist on making general statements about "apologists" or "e-pologists." I don't object to the criticism itself (if it is true, it's entirely fair game; even possibly a duty to point out). What I don't like is the loose, nebulous definition of "apologist," the double standards, and the inability or unwillingness to document claims.

How do you define a "Catholic apologist"? Any Catholic who has a website or blog? I agree that apologetics has a wide purview, and that many can and should do it (I would argue that every Christian is called to do it to some extent, based on 1 Peter 3:15), but it stands to reason that if you are to make a claim like this, you should at least find one or two professional full-time apologists like myself, from whom you can derive a damning statement or two. We have folks like Hahn, Keating, Shea, Akin, Madrid, Ray out there (and yours truly), writing tons of stuff. Y'all can't produce a single example of this gross laxity that has you so upset? Instead, you concentrate on a new convert who doesn't even claim to be an apologist? And vague mentions of tons of such remarks on a Catholic forum?

You could reasonably contend that the non-professional, relatively "green" Catholic apologists (perhaps overzealous due to a recent conversion) do this, but when you make the claim general, you also include us professionals (who would have more of a responsibility to "police," anyway). So that includes me. But as I have shown, I am not guilty of this at all (it's the exact opposite of the truth); nor do I think any other known, published Catholic apologist is, either.

Pontificator was exactly right, when he wrote:

"First, CPA chose to attack someone whose only sin was imprecision of language. If CPA wanted to take on the "big lie," then he should have taken on one or more of the major internet apologists out there - Dave Armstrong, Mark Shea, and Jimmy Akin immediately come to mind - . . . These are the folks that folks read and who are exercising some influence. The point is, if the "big lie," viz., that the Church "created" Scripture, thereby conferring upon it divine authority, is really being disseminated, then it should be fairly easy to document it among these influential writers. But so far I haven't seen any such documentation. In other words, if there is a big lie, it is the lie that CPA and his supporters is spreading."

I am sure that she (Clueless) is an otherwise thoughtful Christian, but in this instance she repeated, in a very lamentable manner a popular falsehood. Not that she herself was being dishonest. But it is clear that she, like so many others, has bought into this particular historical inaccuracy.

I don't think she has, because I read her words in context, and exercised charity in interpreting them, unlike you and CPA and Josh.

There are many compelling arguments for Catholicism and Orthodoxy (I have considered both seriously) but the "Church wrote the Bible in 400AD" argument is not one of them. To be blunt it is a really stupid claim that obviously smart people should shun. I am certain it is a combination of trust and laziness that leads people to believe it. But a brief study of church history is sufficient to prove otherwise.

Her words in context proved that she doesn't think the Bible was literally written in 400 AD. If you doubt this, why don't you ask her outright? Or would that put you out; it being a too-courteous act towards a fellow Christian? This is absolutely asinine. She used some imprecise language. Period. Great balls of fire! Look at the silly things CPA has written in his recent post and in his recent dialogue with me! He has made outrageous claims about Catholicism that were demonstrably false. And he really believes this stuff. You don't have to twist his words and take them out of context to "force" him to believe something that he doesn't accept. Nor does one have to generalize to a whole class of people ("apologists," "Lutherans," "LCMS," etc.) to refute his spurious claims and illogical assertions.

Dave H. is now addressing Pontificator:

With all due respect you have simply ignored almost all of CPA's arguments as if he never made them and ignored my entire point as well.

I haven't seen that. Pontificator has written at length. I have, too. You didn't even mention me, but I wrote a very lengthy, detailed, comprehensive reply (as is my wont: I even get mocked quite often for my verbosity). I looked over CPA's counter-reply, and he scarcely dealt at all with the many arguments I made. Yet here you are complaining that your side is being ignored? What a joke!

CPA also made clear in his initial post and his follow up that he was addressing "popular" beliefs by Catholics not the official Catholic teaching.

That's fine; nevertheless, he (and you, and Josh) have insisted on generalizing to the class of "Catholic apologists" who supposedly are lax in correcting these errors. It amounts to saying that we either don't know what our Church teaches, or we do and refuse to correct folks who are distorting it. The class of apologists includes full-time ones like myself. Or do you wish to exempt apologists who show that they know their stuff from the charge?

Such things are fair game. If you wish to deny that there are Catholics all over the internet, as well as Orthodox, who make this particular argument you simply have your head in the sand (respectfully). Go over to Catholic Answers and count how many times this argument is made on their forums by Catholic apologists.

That gets back to what one means by "Catholic apologist" - one of my points above. You can always find people who are imprecise or mistaken about things. At what point does any writer on a board or blog become an "apologist", though? You can say lots of folks "do apologetics," but to describe them as an "apologist" implies to me a much higher level of education and ability and skill. If you say, "Protestant apologist," for example (and I was one for ten years), I think of people like Josh McDowell, C.S. Lewis, Norman Geisler, John Warwick Montgomery; even William Lane Craig or Gary Habermas. I wouldn't dream of calling anyone at all who defended some form of Protestantism on the Internet a "Protestant apologist." So I find this imprecision of language an odd curiosity.

It does no good for you to hand select a few high profile apologists.

Why? After all, we are part of that class of "Catholic e-pologists" on the Internet, too, are we not? Most of the best-known Catholic apologists have an active presence on the Internet (Scott Hahn would be one exception). It's almost like you want to restrict the use of the term "Catholic apologist" to the relatively less-educated, less experienced, and less effective people who do apologetics on the Internet. This quickly becomes a double standard. You want to attack people who have some shortcoming, then illogically generalize to the entire class, and then complain when we reply that you have not noted any well-known apologists, or produced anything from them that shows this "widespread error" you are all up in arms about. It's ludicrous.

My entire point is that these same apologists do not correct this error among Catholic, likes CC, but have no problem attacking Protestants for addressing what they refuse too.

Case in point. This includes people like me. But I have already shown that I have done exactly this (I do it all the time). I even had an article published in This Rock which chastized Catholics), called, "Catholics Need to Read Their Bibles". I was praised by anti-Catholics in the CARM forum when I reproduced it in that venue. They loved it. I showed how I have addressed this very error, in my paper, "The Canon of Scripture: Did the Catholic Church Create It Or Merely Authoritatively Acknowledge It?" You obviously didn't read that paper, because if you had, you would see that I did precisely what you are calling for: I disagreed with a Catholic friend of mine on my own blog, and agreed with the Reformed Protestant Kevin Johnson. I wrote, in my conclusion, responding to the Catholic:

I don't follow your logic here. Scripture is what it is. 1 Timothy and other passages clearly teach inerrancy and inspiration. Therefore, they are biblical doctrines, because they are books in the Bible. Period. The canon is a separate issue. I think you are unnecessarily confusing the two areas.

The Catholic Church simply acknowledges what is intrinsically Scripture; it doesn't make it so (as my citations from VI and VII proved). At best you can only demonstrate a certain epistemological disconnect at some point in Protestantism vis-a-vis the Bible and Tradition and sola Scriptura (I've made that argument a hundred times myself), but you haven't shown that Scripture itself doesn't teach that Scripture is inspired and infallible and inerrant.

If you followed your logic consistently, you would end up with the absurdity of saying that no doctrine taught in the Bible is a biblical doctrine, because we can't know for sure that any biblical book is in fact part of the Bible without non-biblical Tradition. Thus, by a reductio ad absurdum, this particular argument of yours collapses. It "proves too much."

I also cited Vatican I and Vatican II, to give the true Catholic teaching:

You [Kevin] are absolutely correct. You want common ground; this is one. The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) from Vatican II, makes this clear:

For Holy Mother Church relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that they were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn. 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:19-21; 3:15-16), they have God as their author, and have been handed on as such to the Church herself.
Was this something "new" in Vatican II? Hardly. It merely echoes an earlier statement from Vatican I (1870) - which in turn was not far from similar expressions in Trent -: Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, chapter II:

These the Church holds to be sacred and canonical; not because . . . they were afterward approved by her authority . . . but because, having been written by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their author, and have been delivered as such to the Church herself.
Seems to me, Kevin, that this is quite sufficient to establish that we agree on this point. Any Catholic or Protestant who states otherwise simply doesn't understand Catholic dogmatic teaching on the nature of the canon of Holy Scripture.

But, of course, you don't want to include me in your criticisms. You just want to make sweeping claims about "Catholic apologists" without consulting the ones who work hardest at that endeavor, and devote their lives to it. That's really fair, isn't it?: you want to exclude the ones who most reasonably can be expected to speak for the class of which they are a part, but reserve the right to bash the entire class (which includes those that you exclude from analysis). Very compelling methodology there . . .

CPA's arguments were fair and have not yet be addressed.

I addressed them point by point. Perhaps you weren't aware of that. Now you are. As far as I am concerned, several of his points were pulverized. I think it is embarrassing for him, and that he should remove the paper, before he loses even more credibility than he already has.

You are simply being dismissive.

And you and CPA and Josh are not doing that, of course . . . You want to say you aren't doing it, too? Okay, then reply to my previous paper point-by-point, and/or this one. After all, I am the first professional Catholic apologist who has responded at length to your criticisms. What stops you?

Two separate things are going on here: 1 - you don’t like CPA's choice of blogs to engage - Clueless Christian's. 2 -An argument has been made against a popular misunderstanding of the origins of the New Testament. An argument I might add that could have been made by a thoughtful Catholic or Orthodox person.

Yeah, exactly. That's why I have made it myself on more than one occasion. But then that puts the lie to your sweeping claims about Catholic apologists. It's in your interest, then, to make out that said class is exceedingly ignorant, and to ignore or quickly dismiss people like me, who have done their homework, because apparently you want to deal only with shoddy Catholic apologetics. I take exactly the opposite approach: I seek out the most able exponents of opposing positions: not the least (which "enables" one to make fun of those positions and mock them). I did this even with the anti-Catholics (a position I consider intellectual suicide). Thus I have taken on James White, Eric Svendsen, David T. King, Jason Engwer, and William Webster: the best and most "armed" proponents of a ludicrous position.

Instead of engaging it you are setting up strawmen (I hate that term, but it's true) and then knocking them down.

Wow. Talk about "pot - kettle - black" time . . .

This is simply out of character for you. You may not be moved by Protestant arguments, frankly neither am I depending on the argument, but you have not addressed CPA directly.

I think Pontificator has; I certainly have . . . I await counter-replies. Something tells me I may be waiting a long time. But you never know . . . occasionally people are willing to actually defend their positions with some reasonable arguments.

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